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A Fresh Start and Rehabbed History: Landon Bone Baker’s Two Exemplary Award-Winning Projects

City Gardens
City Gardens

In Chicago’s historic Near West Side neighborhood, something unexpected has happened.

“You don’t see this in Chicago,” said Richard Sciortino, founding principal of Brinshore Development, who helped lead a team of architects, developers, and community partners to deliver City Gardens – an innovative 76 unit mixed-income redevelopment at 312 S Maplewood Ave, occupying a full block on what was formerly Maplewood Courts.

The site of the 1968 King riots, the Near West Side neighborhood presented unique challenges for the project’s collaborators, chiefly the need for safe, secure family housing. City Gardens does just that. It is a welcoming space for community members built to strengthen ties between residents, while still incorporating a striking, contemporary design aesthetic.

“In the front we really wanted to address the street in a formal way that felt strong, but not rigid,” said Peter Landon, principal architect of Landon Bone Baker. “In the interior, we wanted it to be a place that the kids and the families could own.”

The architects decided to build out a central communal courtyard that is now the heart of the project. By limiting vehicular access to only the cars of the residents, the central communal external courtyard has become a walkable space for neighbors to gather. Within is located a community building with a full teaching kitchen, a large play area, grilling stations, outdoor seating areas as well as a working garden managed by the residents. A prominent recycling center displays the community’s commitment to sustainable practices.

The perimeter face is designed to provide a strong street front presence while breaking down into smaller visual units through the use of setbacks, varied window groupings, changing roof profiles and color enrichment.

City Gardens recycling center displays the community’s commitment to sustainable practices.
City Gardens recycling center displays the community’s commitment to sustainable practices.

“The complex makes me feel safe,” said City Gardens resident Linda White. “As I grow to be around the complex, to be around my neighbors – I just got to a point where I love it. It’s just a beautiful place. I love the space of my apartment. It’s gorgeous. The complex makes me feel safe and comfortable.”

The project and its architects, Landon Bone Baker, will be receiving first place for the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design at the upcoming 25th Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA) on Thursday, May 9 at McCormick Place.

The Carling Hotel
The Carling Hotel

It shares its first place prize with another Landon Bone Baker project: the historic renovation of the Carling Hotel. What was once a 155-unit, single-occupancy hotel is now an affordable housing property in the upscale neighborhood of Old Town. The rehabbed hotel boasts 80 micro-apartments double in size of the previous units, each with a kitchenette, handicap-accessible full bathroom, as well as a dining and living space.

“When we first acquired the Carling, it was really in rough shape,” said Greg Olson, the Regional Vice President of Michaels Company, the developer for the project. “With all of the development that’s happened in the neighborhood, it’s really important to provide different types of housing options for people in neighborhoods like this.”

The project not only delivers new and improved affordable housing in a neighborhood in which such options are increasingly rare; it also represents the salvation of an important historical landmark. Located at 1512 N. LaSalle Street, the building has been part of the Old Town neighborhood since 1927. It has been a SRO since its inception and its preservation became the basis for Chicago’s 2014 SRO Preservation Ordinance.

“The impact when you walk into one of these buildings that hasn’t been updated and rehabbed in many years is this kind of overall dinginess, that it is not a nice place to live,” said Landon Bone Baker principal architect Jeff Bone.

The lobby of the remodeled Carling Hotel
The lobby of the remodeled Carling Hotel

Now, after its remodeling, the Carling has become a safe, well-maintained, and comfortable living environment for its residents, as well as a welcome street presence both in material and detail. The continuance of an SRO guarantees a diversity of people housed in the neighborhood that would undoubtedly have been displaced. What has resulted is a meticulously executed project, both nurturing and artistically advanced.

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design recognizes and encourages best practices in community design, landscape design and architecture. As winning projects, both the redeveloped Carling Hotel and City Gardens clearly and successfully demonstrate a contribution to the visual, social and cultural life in the communities they serve. 

Established in 1995, CNDA recognizes the essential role that both non-profit and for-profit developers play in building communities in Chicago neighborhoods. The Awards recognize outstanding achievement in neighborhood real estate development and community building, especially the achievements of community development corporations (CDCs), other community-based organizations and for-profit developers working to build healthier neighborhoods in the Chicago metropolitan area.

LISC Chicago serves as the organizing agency for CNDA and the Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design and works closely with sponsors and volunteer committees and judges to select award recipients and to produce the annual awards ceremony.

The full list of winners will be revealed on Thursday, May 9 at the 25th Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards which will take place in the Skyline Ballroom at McCormick Place, West Building, 2301 S. Indiana Ave. Tickets and tables are available. For more information or to register, visit the CNDA website.